Chris Wood remembers our friend and colleague, Steve Douglas

Posted: 19th May 2022 Chris Wood, Associate Director

This article was first published here by Inside Housing.

Many people in the sector have expressed sadness at the untimely passing of Steve Douglas. Chris Wood, his former business partner, remembers his old friend.

It was with huge shock and immense sadness that I learned of the passing of my great friend and colleague, Steve Douglas, on the morning of Sunday 8 May.

Like you, my thoughts and sympathy immediately went out to his partner Michelle, his four sons and the wider family. It was a sudden and great loss. At 57 years old, he was taken from us far too soon.

I first met Steve around the turn of the century. He was the London regional director for the Housing Corporation and I had been elected chair of the London boroughs housing directors group. We often sat on different sides of the negotiating table, but we shared the same ambition for housing in London. Steve was always creative, dynamic and innovative.

Social justice was in his DNA, and we developed a strong friendship. I even forgave him for his loyalty to Arsenal Football Club.

Steve went on to become chief executive of the (then) Housing Corporation and saw it through to the end of its term. His time at the corporation only came after successful CEO roles at Asra Housing Association and Spitalfields Housing Association.

All these roles meant Steve enjoyed a great profile in the housing sector. He was hugely well regarded across the sector, where I know he will be fondly remembered and greatly missed.

My friendship and professional relationship with Steve blossomed and when he left the corporation, we agreed to start a business. One of the fun aspects of starting a business is finding a name.

We settled (not particularly imaginatively) on DouglasWood. I argued weakly for WoodDouglas, but I knew I would never win.

Despite the unimaginative name, DouglasWood was successful and in 2011 we teamed up with Fiona Underwood and Susan Kane to form Altair, with a plan to float the company within five years.

Steve was a great player on that team. No egos. We had shared values, and while we were serious about growing a business, it had to be fun.

Steve was a great advocate of fun in the workplace, while at the same time he could be quite old-school – when everyone I know stopped wearing ties around the end of the noughties, Steve continued to carry the flag (or the tie).

We floated the business on schedule and developed a group structure. Steve became group chief executive of Aquila Services Group (Altair’s parent company). Among other initiatives, he led the Leadership 2025 programme, which has raised the importance of diversity in housing and is empowering professionals from minority backgrounds to become future sector leaders.

In 2019, Steve received a CBE for services to housing. He was chuffed. His mum was chuffed too. He told me he was looking for new challenges.

In 2020, Steve left Aquila on good terms, while remaining a major shareholder. He had a new challenge that matched his values and relentless commitment to social justice. Chief executive of St Mungo’s.

I spoke to Steve several times over the past couple of years. He was enjoying life and the work at St Mungo’s had put a new spring in his step. He was looking forward to the future with so much more to give. And latterly Arsenal had started winning. He had everything to play for.

I know I speak on behalf of everyone at Altair, the wider Aquila group and an extensive range of housing professionals when I say that I mourn Steve’s passing with deep sadness. I will miss him. We all will miss him. RIP, mate!

Chris Wood, Group Director, Altair

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